The Path Not Taken

Update: Maybe the US delegation did come about... All eyes are now focused on the present, on North Korea’s recent nuclear test and the sanctions that might follow. While most commentators readily condemn North Korea’s “provocation”, it might be helpful to ask whether things could have turned out differently if a different sequence of events had taken place. To do so, we need to take a step back to late 2012 and ask a belated what-if…

Just prior to North Korea’s rocket launch last year, North Korea attempted to invite a high-level delegation from the US to visit Pyongyang. The visit (apparently) did not appear to take place. It is an interesting but futile exercise to wonder what the message would have been. Could it be an olive branch in which North Korea emphasizes the desire to reset the US-North Korea relationship? Or would it have been a hardline message in which North Korea announces its intention to test its rocket and nuclear capabilities?

Regardless of what might have been, North Korea got a US delegation – the ‘Google’ delegation - after its rocket launch. But it does not seem to be the official delegation North Korea wanted. It was a delegation snubbed by the State Department publicly, in ways that neutered its potential as a mediator or messenger. Perhaps this reflected North Korean policymakers assumption that these prominent individuals would have significant input into US foreign policy.

Would the rocket launch and nuclear test be averted if a different visit had taken place prior to the rocket launch? We would never know now, but these what-ifs remind us how little the world seems to know of Pyongyang’s strategic intentions, worldview, and decision-making processes.

Other interesting commentary (not exhaustive as I have yet have time to cover everything):

Jeffrey Lewis - what can we actually do? NKleadershipwatch - how the test might have been rolled out Elizabeth C. Economy - Picks up on an interesting development that can lead to an interesting idea